Ok. I really battled with myself over this admission, because once I put this out there, I can’t take it back. I’ll be opening myself up to judgment and ridicule, heckling and bias; however, I cannot possibly justify writing the following column without coming clean.
I’m a theatre nerd. A drama geek. A friend of Shakespeare. Though I have distanced myself from the stage over the last few years, there was a time when a majority of my everyday life was spent on, near, or in front of a stage. We grew apart, though, over time. Theatre and I began to see less and less of each other. Eventually, my interests evolved from being on stage to writing for the stage, to just writing; however, a part of my heart will always belong to the theatre, as it does for anyone who once loved the stage. Nothing brings that love to the surface like THE TONY AWARDS!
I know what you’re thinking, ” THE TONY AWARDS?! This column is supposed to be about TV!” But, hear me out. One, THE TONY’S are on TV. Two, THE TONY’S were hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, who is also on TV. Three, the show that took the most awards, THE BOOK OF MORMON, is the glorious brain child of Trey Parker and Matt Stone of SOUTH PARK, which is, again, also on TV. These may seem like trivial validations made in desperation, but I assure you, I can expand on each of these points.
Over the past few years, a surprising number of film and television actors have moved to the stage. At the same time, TV has exhibited a resurgence of all things theatrical, with reality shows like AMERICAN IDOL, SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE, etc. For the first time in a long while, there is a growing respect for the triple threat: acting, singing and dancing. Case in point, GLEE. Love it or hate it, the show is overflowing with talent, and that talent has been recognized by a huge percentage of the ratings pool.
There’s something about song and dance that evokes emotions which would otherwise lie dormant. You might think you know what the character is feeling when they talk about a love lost, or just out of reach. Until you hear those words set to music, sung under a god light on downstage center, you haven’t felt a damn thing. The empathy brought forth by musicals stretches across the entire range of human emotion, and enables a connection with the audience that cannot be mimicked. Naturally, if I had to pick just one example to back up these claims, I’d pick Trey Parker and Matt Stone.
If we take a look at their entire body of work (from CANNIBAL! THE MUSICAL to SOUTH PARK), we will see that it is peppered with music, and not lightly. This goes beyond tributes to Radiohead or The Cure; their songs have always had firm, Broadway roots. Their songs are not just songs, their musical numbers, through and through. Clearly, this talent for the theatrical did not go unnoticed. They teamed up with Robert Lopez of AVENUE Q, and set out to write the epic musical they always wanted to create: a curiously driven, ironic tribute to all things religious. THE BOOK OF MORMON landed 14 Tony nominations, and 9 of those ended with wins. Nine. It swept the evening and it’s pretty easy to see why:
I could leave it at that, really. A quick bit of praise, and a bit of an opinion could make a complete column. But, it goes a little deeper than that; you see, I can bring it all back to TV again, full circle.
SOUTH PARK, now in its 15th season (makes you feel old, doesn’t it? yeah . . .ahem. . .me neither), aired its midseason finale on June 1st, and will return later this year (typically October). At first glance, this episode came across as one of the more ridiculously vulgar story lines that Trey and Matt seem to do so well. This assumption holds true for a merely a second before you realize what the episode is about. We see Stan turn 10 and come into first contact with cynicism. As the story line branches out, we see things start to unravel. Stan’s parents, Randy and Sharon Marsh, begin to deal with their own frustration over the repetition of their antics. Suddenly, what was funny just a second ago becomes starkly sad, in a really awkward way. The end of the episode leaves us with a slow-moving montage of change and frustration, set to “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac. On the surface, it could be funny, but it’s not. Matt and Trey know this, and they laid it on the table so we could know it, too. When you’ve spent 15 years pushing the line of absurdity to make a point, eventually it becomes crap.
Now, please take note, I do not think SOUTH PARK is crap. I think it’s held it’s own remarkably well, probably due to how amazingly topical their animation style allows them to be. Parker and Stone are incredibly creative and have found a great balance between “OMG that’s disgusting!” and “Touche.” No doubt, they could probably continue with SOUTH PARK for a few more years before it completely runs out of steam. But, why drag it out? Why should they limit themselves given what they are completely capable of?
Trey and Matt have created a new niche for satire, blown the doors to possibility wide open, and officially validated that they can do anything they put their minds to. THE BOOK OF MORMON did not only win the praise of critics and audiences, it also won the praise of Mormons. That is just how good they are; they can mock you and pay homage to you at the same time. Trey and Matt, you took New York by storm. And you know what? If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.